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Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Slashdot Headline 192

Hugh Pickens writes "David Carr writes that headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative, but now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice. Hence the headline for this story that includes a prized key word for one of the 'Gossip Girls' — just the thing to push this Slashdot summary to the top of Google rankings. 'All of the things that make headlines meaningful in print — photographs, placement, and context — are nowhere in sight on the Web,' writes Carr. Headlines have become, as Gabriel Snyder, the recently appointed executive editor of, says, 'naked little creatures that have to go out into the world to stand and fight on their own.' In this context, 'Jon Stewart Slams Glenn Beck' is the ideal headline, guaranteed to pull in thousands of pageviews. And while nobody is suggesting that the Web should somehow accommodate the glories of The New York Post's headlines in that paper's prime, some of its classics would still work. 'Remember "Headless Body in Topless Bar," perhaps the most memorable New York Post headline ever? It's direct, it's descriptive, and it's oh-so-search-engine-friendly. And not a Taylor Momsen in sight.'"
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Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Slashdot Headline

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  • A-freaking-men! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:15PM (#32266304)

    I'm a technology journalist now working for a web-exclusive publication after years of working in print. And headlines have gone from being one of the most fun parts of the job to one of the worst. I've had endless arguments with editors who will freak out if there's anything even the slightest bit clever or sly about a headline--if it's not packed with keywords, all properly researched via Google Trends and Omniture and God knows how many other vetting systems, it's just not wanted at all. It's horrific, and does the readers a tremendous disservice.

    The bigger problem is that the problem isn't limited to just headlines. Stories have to be constructed the same way, with this many mentions of the lead product or whatever in the deck and the first and last paragraphs, with the full product name used this many times, with this many links out to this many other sites... Journalism, at least the form of it I'm involved in, is no longer about informing people or telling stories, it's all about getting picked up by Google. The training I had never dared call that journalism. Once upon a time, it was known as advertising.

    • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by linhares ( 1241614 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:24PM (#32266436)
      and to make things worse, because ads do not fit well with plane crashes, terrorism, school shootings, corrupt politicians, the media seems to be gradually going to a "feel good" news dystopia. Lots and lots of sheer propaganda, instead of real news stories (my definition of real journalism is that "Something seems to stink @ X"; the rest is all propaganda). Techcrunch reported on a news website some time ago where there would be only good news, for christ's sake. [] news-down-your-throat/ Couple these trends with the bazzilion-page slideshows and/or reviews, and one can only wonder why big media is complaining.
      • by rtaylor ( 70602 )

        It makes sense that they would push the news their biggest customers want.

        They will chase revenue. Some of the trading news feeds are pretty thorough for disasters though obviously their focus is who the plane crash will impact.

        • Services, news services included, stink because the customer is NOT the individual consumer but another corporation. Corporations are not human, they have no intelligence, they aren't even alive in any meaningful sense. If companies could ditch the actual end consumer entirely, they would. End consumers want something - however minimal, drab or insignificant - they can point to. Corporations can't point and (without intelligence) wouldn't know what to point to if they could. It follows that end users are mu

      • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by squidfood ( 149212 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:55PM (#32266888)

        the media seems to be gradually going to a "feel good" news dystopia.

        Well, then, that's a welcome relief from the current "you're surrounded by terrorists and child rapists panic Panic PANIC!!" news dystopia.

      • There's always been feel-good news. And plane crashes certainly sell. My god man, just look at the Fox News website and count how many tragedies they can line up next to sexy photos.
      • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @01:11PM (#32267094) Homepage

        > my definition of real journalism is that "Something seems to stink @ X";
        > the rest is all propaganda

        If you don't realize that the muckraking stories are sometimes propaganda as well you are very naive.

    • Re:A-freaking-men! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:27PM (#32266468)

      If you want to write good and witty headlines head to Fark, perhaps point Fark out to your boss also.

      Write the general headline, write the Fark headline, show your boss where the most hits came from.

    • by Tei ( 520358 )

      Content is king. Some people would thing otherwise, Is safe to ignore these people. So, if you produce less interesting content, to make more like a trap for google, you are doing it wrong. The "boost" you can gain lyiing to google is temporal, at a point, all these fake ranking will die. :-I

      I really love good writters, a good journalist that is worth read, is a beatifull thing.

    • "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

      There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking f

    • It's an information-destroying loop. Google Trends --> Headline Keywords --> Google Trends --> Headline Keywords... Unless the feedback loop is deliberately broken, it's just going to continue to feed noise back into itself until we have headlines like "Pork Snot Shoots Big Whale Bad Monger."

      At some point human beings have to feed actual intelligence into the system. People are treating Google like it's some kind of oracle. It's just a very complicated parrot that takes what you say and says it bac

    • Your first sentence sounds like you crafted it for a search engine.
    • "Note: Finding humor in word-play is an excellent way to feel superior to other people, without needing to think creatively or experience actual emotions." -- []

      • I realize you're just quoting someone else, but how is making up the wordplay NOT being creative?

    • Journalism, at least the form of it I'm involved in, is no longer about informing people or telling stories, it's all about getting picked up by Google.

      Let's be careful not to blame Google for this, though. It's not as if they're forcing you to pander to them.

      If publications, especially the daily and weekly variety, were to start actually doing their jobs by informing readers in the stories themselves then maybe more readers would actually visit the webpages of those publications, so Google wouldn't have t

    • The training I had never dared call that journalism. Once upon a time, it was known as advertising.

      You were trained for an era where people paid for a good chunk of the content and ads made up the difference. That era is history. Now the readers are the product. Their attention is being bought by the advertisers and the content is just a lure, rather than the primary purpose of the publication. With this model you don't need quality writing. You just need to pull people in. Creating the biggest profile possible with SEO is the easiest way to do that.

    • Just make every headline something like "Hot Teen Sex!!!" and you're all set with the SEO.

      It seems to me it's just like that on many Internet sites. The HuffPo comes to mind. As much as I like the content, the headlines are often complete nonsense.

  • Or just ignore them and actually rank by the content!!! line they're supposed to do?
    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:52PM (#32266838)

      If they could do that, this problem wouldn't exist in the first place. It's a lot harder to asses content algorithmically than to make a reasonable guess as to what the content is about (good or otherwise). The basic problem with any algorithm to detect something (computer or otherwise) is that people start trying to appease the algorithm, not the thing the algorithm is trying to asses. Want to develop a a way to evaluate teachers? Lets test all the students (that's our algorithm), so the teachers teach to the test, and in the end your data is worthless.

      In some respects this is the collision between art and science. Computers do science well, art, not so much. Writing articles is an art, even if the content itself isn't, the skill of making an article catchy or otherwise interesting is really hard to evaluate. The google search algorithm is a good example of what happens when you try and apply science, especially early generation science to and art form. How do you judge the quality of any sort of an article? Early on you pick out key words (what about JS and GB for jon stewart and Glen beck, can I detect those?, you might need a context sensitive language to guess their utility, which is possible but again inefficient), you maybe base your evaluation on the status of the author/publisher (something by thomas friedman in the NYT is probably more relevant to a topic than the random crap I post on a blog), so then you need a system of mathematically describing reputation (good luck dodging a bias there). What's the next pass? How many refeences are made to the article elsewhere is probably good, that's a bit of a messy algorithm performance wise but we'll cope. Next up, you get into (for example) verifiability, that's a hard one to do algorithmically for a large data set, and how do you detect someone trying to screw with your verification algorithm. I'm looking at you Anthony Penis Blair, (that's in reference to his longstanding description on wikipedia which I believe has been fixed), and 'michael jackson is dead' (how do you verify that algorithmically when it's breaking news?). A cursory search turns up listing the criterion for content as 'crediential, correctness, objectivity, crafstmanship'. We can pretty easily do an ok job on credential, correctness is somewhat harder, objectivity and craftsmanship are a really hard. We could maybe make inroads on objectivity by recognizing different objective sets of data and then trying to (machine) learn whether a piece of data fits in one set or another. Craftsmanship is well outside my area of expertise, how do you evaluate the depth and bredth of an article relative to others?

      Even with all that, they're taking second seat to data that can be produced quickly, potentially of lower quality but will attract attention of users. It's not an easy problem to solve, it's not just that it's agorithmically hard to evaluate content on the fly (as any science kid in an arts class will tell you), it's that the audience has moved from wanting a certain type of articles (which print media spent the last 400 years perfecting) to wanting instant access to 'probably' correct information, and they have no great attachment to credientials, partly because we've realized that journalists are largely out to lunch when it comes to complex topics.

      The print media guys recognized the first problem, probably in time, but the latter problem too late. They needed to adapt their business and publishing model to have significantly more depth, but not necessarily from in house reporters (basically contract an actual expert on each topic and pair them with a writer, sort of like how news networks bring in experts on everything, but with an actual journalism filter on top of them), and they needed to be willing to say on short notice "we have reports from a single source that michael jackson is in fact dead". Probably the natural alliance here is between p

    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:52PM (#32266842)
      Frankly I don't buy the "glory days of newspaper" nostalgia argument. The idea that headlines were once crafted to be deeply insightful, and informative doesn't mesh with my own recollections. I've always found headlines to be frustratingly vague. Headline writers seem obsessed with injecting puns, usually at the expense of clarity. The whole concept of a headline in print, being limited by font size and page size, means that the content is strangely constrained and thus non-optimal sentence fragments end up being used. And, finally, I think newspapers have been optimizing their headlines to be attention-grabbing (rather than strictly informative/useful) for a long time now.

      In other words, the notion of a headline crafted for a non-journalistic purpose has been around for a long time. In the print era, it was optimized for what was most likely to catch/attract a reader who is walking by a newsstand. (There is a reason the headlines on print newspapers are so gigantic.) Nowadays the headlines are being optimized for what an online reader is most likely to stumble across or search for. In both cases, the headline is an advertisement for the article. It is meant to induce you to go check out the product.

      As long as there is a profit motive behind journalism/news, there will be a conflict between what the distributor wants (to make money) and what the consumer wants (to be informed). That's more or less fine, since we've achieved a decent balance. But that does mean there are some inefficiencies (like infuriatingly misleading headlines).
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by cyp43r ( 945301 )
        They weren't designed to be insightful or informative - they were designed to catch the eye and mind. It was advertising all the way. The principal concern was the size of the the words so that they could all fit neatly on top of the article. People nostalgic for those headlines must be the kind of people who thought them up, because they were rarely funny and often groan inducing.
      • Agreed. Were things so much better in the days of William Randolph Hearst? Hardly! The whole "kids these days" thing is just tiresome.

        What these J-school types never seem to mention is that there is far more real news out there now than ever before, due to the amateurs. For any major news story, there are hundreds and hundreds of photos online for you to puruse, taken by unpaid de facto "journalists", and page after page of blogerific commentary. Who is credible and who is a partisan windbag remains,
    • Or just ignore them and actually rank by the content!!! line they're supposed to do?

      Have you used a search engine before? Have you noticed while you're scrolling through the search results they don't show you the entire content of the page?

    • by kellyb9 ( 954229 )
      That's a lot of reading to do... thats why I just read the summaries. :-D.
    • If X is rated, X will be abused. QED.

  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:18PM (#32266354) Homepage Journal

    I have no idea who Taylor Momsen is and I never heard of that headline but the Headline was clever.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Em Emalb ( 452530 )

      I agree. WhoTF is Taylor Momsen?

      Should I care?

      (Or does this mean I get a slashdot street-cred point for not knowing who this person is? Or do I lose one? I can never keep track these days.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Em Emalb ( 452530 )

        Bad form replying to my own response, according to some on here (to you I say FEH. FEH I SAY!), but apparently Taylor Momsen is a young (born in July, 1993) American actress.

        Dang, that's the year I graduated high school....17 years has passed? Really? Damn.

        Get off my...well, it's not old and crusty, but it's still my lawn. So get off it, you damned kids.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:39PM (#32266648) Homepage Journal

        (Or does this mean I get a slashdot street-cred point for not knowing who this person is? Or do I lose one? I can never keep track these days.)

        It's easy: You lose points for not just [f***ing] googling the name.

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

          by batquux ( 323697 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:53PM (#32266856)

          You lose points for not just [f***ing] googling the name.

          I tried to, but all that came up was this Slashdot article.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Not really.
          One who asks who is Taylor Monson is loses points for not googling the name.

          One who states they don't know but sees that she is something called a Gossip Girl probably is wise.
          The know from that amount of data that they don't know and don't care.

          Now if this Taylor person was in a headline with some science discovery or in a some movie or show I cared about I would probably have spent the time go google her.
          I can tell right off the bat when you put Popular and Gossip Girls in the headline that I r

      • I agree. WhoTF is Taylor Momsen?
        Should I care?

        You don't need to know. All you need to know is that thousands upon thousands of screaming teens know who Taylor Momsen is. Including the words "Taylor Momsen" in your headline guarantees thousands of hits for your website.
        • > Including the words "Taylor Momsen" in your headline guarantees thousands
          > of hits for your website.

          As the only Web site I manage has no ads, why would I want them?

      • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

        by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:52PM (#32266844) Homepage

        Or does this mean I get a slashdot street-cred

        *laugh* I'm sorry, but you can't use "Slashdot" and "street-cred" in the same sentence like that.

        Geek-cred? Maybe. Street-cred? I don't think so.

    • I have no idea who Taylor Momsen is

      I do, I think, and I'm not entirely convinced she didn't write the headline.

      the Headline was clever

      I thought so too. Along those lines, headlines will still have to be clever and catchy AFTER getting onto the first search page. To use the "Jon Stewart slams Glen Beck" example, if I was googling Jon Stewart, that boring headline isn't going to pull me in.

      Basically headlines are going to still have to be clever and catchy, but also now include buzzwords, which they kind of already did.

  • This explains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <> on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:18PM (#32266362)
    This explains why every few minutes, stock ticker sites like Yahoo Finance are producing new riveting headlines that leave the impression that the cause of every move in the stock market is fully understood.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by John Hasler ( 414242 )

      > ...that leave the impression that the cause of every move in the stock
      > market is fully understood.

      It is. A stock goes up when the most recent trade was at a higher price than the previous one. It goes down when the most recent trade was for a lower price than the previous one.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      No, that's the nature of finance reporting.

      The Wall Street Journal has been doing that sort of thing for nearly a century.

      Their credulity for their own post hoc ergo propter hoc is all but criminal.

      And remember, Yahoo is an aggregator, not a producer. All of those self-satisfied fallacious explanations are generated by other organs.

      They haven't had to go the route of seeding headlines with search-engine buzzwords yet, because the financial sites react more to ticker symbols in the body of the articles. Wh

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:19PM (#32266372)

    Made you look!

  • David Carr writes that headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative, but now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice.

    ... is that not because search engines are a good way to reach readers?

    • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @02:40PM (#32268142) Journal


      People used to react to headlines in making a decision to purchase a newspaper. Now they search for topics of interest in making a decision to click through to whomever has the info they wanted before they went looking for news.

      Once they had the newspaper in their hands, they unfolded it to discover that the only interesting headline was above the fold on the front page, and the rest was crap written by communications majors.

      Now they read the article, then go back to the search engine to find other things they want to know, often on exactly the same topic.

      I.e., newspapers are no longer 80 pages long, 300 on Sunday. They're 1 story deep, 24/7/365 (but really 9-5 on weekdays because even on the internet you can't get people to work any time other than the space between breakfast and dinner).

      The salacious nature of headlines has actually been reduced. "If it bleeds it leads" is no longer the most profitable strategy. Breadth of topics and close tracking of current topicality are more valuable, and more likely to get people to pluck the leaves from your tree (and with them the parasitic corporate eggs ads that are glued to their undersides).

  • I thought that it was being pushed for people to be able to include metadata and keywords and tags via hidden HTML attached to their articles to give a tip to search engines. Whatever happened to that part of moving forward on the web? Did it turn out that it was too easy to game search engines with spam if you could constantly update what your spam site's metadata was indexed as?

    Hypothetically this would allow you to put something very clever and catchy as a headline and then insert the obvious keywords into a meta tag to help out search engines. You could even avoid all the keywords.

    Also, engines like Google were designed for you to be agnostic as to what each engine was doing. Tailoring yourself to one search engine doesn't only ruin what they're trying to accomplish but also what you're trying to accomplish which is being informative to readers, not the search engine. Know, respect and cater to your audience and they will stay with you through the hard times.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You mean putting Meta Tags on my site containing Taylor Momsen, Justin Beiber, and Hardcore Sluts, when my site is really about C# is not a way to generate a random hit? I mean, couple that with re-naming all the variables in example to code to the celebrities on Entertainment Weekly, and reworking all my functions signatures like so;

      I mean, how do YOU generate activity on your sites? The honest way is for suckers.

  • When you write/link to about nerdy things, the topics are their own keywords. SEO [] requires nearly zero effort on my part due to the subject matter. w00t!

    Fun little tidbit about some stats from my site: of the last 500 visitors who found it by using a search engine, 481 were from Google!

    • When you write/link to about nerdy things, the topics are their own keywords. SEO requires nearly zero effort on my part due to the subject matter. w00t!

      Tech terms and names for programs often are difficult to google because they are non-unique and have a larger usage in other areas of influence. Especially acronyms. Some terms can't be searched because Google still ignores all punctuation. "C", "C++", "C#", "C--", "%^#$, C!!!!" are all the same to google. []

      • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

        Interesting...wasn't aware about the acronym part. I don't believe this has affected anything I've posted over the last year, but I'll keep it in mind. Thanks for the tip!

  • by fotoguzzi ( 230256 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:25PM (#32266452)
    I don't read articles anymore. I just read descriptive URLs. []

    I think the headline on that article was about American Idol, but I'm not sure, as I didn't read the article.
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:32PM (#32266538) Homepage

    ... who Taylor Momsen is. And even better, I lack any desire to find out.

  • But a quick GIS revealed she's fucking hot. That's all you need to know.

  • No Slashdot in the first 20 or so returns []. After which I got really bored and went back to work.

  • Slightly off-topic, but the Post headline that has lodged itself firmly in my brain is the one that was attached to Ike Turner's obituary: "Ike "Beats" Tina to Death".
  • by Snowhare ( 263311 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @12:39PM (#32266642)

    Frankly, I hate 'clever' headlines which manage to work in some rather stupid pun while declining to actually say what the freaking article is about. It may make headline writing 'fun' for writers, but it just annoys everyone else. *You* want to be clever - *I* just want to decide whether the article is actually about something I'm interested in.

  • "Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Slashdot Headline." ...
    "Hugh Pickens writes..." .....
    "David Carr writes that..." /Head explodes

  • And get a record comment count. What else might possibly get more comments than the political threads? Taylor Momson, that's what.
  • I remember the days when SEO didn't work very well with Google.

  • I remember (well, I remember seeing pictures) those old newspaper headlines that freakin' paragraphs of text. Seriously, like multiple sentences (or at least should have been multiple sentences). Example: []
  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @01:01PM (#32266956) Homepage Journal

    Lately I've been noticing that I get a lot more google matches that are utterly irrelevant to what I was looking for, and on examination, they usually don't even contain any of the keywords that I typed. This is presumably part of the same problem, due to the growing success of marketers in "attracting eyes" by tricking the search sites into sending people to the marketers' sites.

    Perhaps a useful approach would be for the search sites to allow us to "ban" a site, similarly to what a lot of email and news readers have done for years. This could be done in a browser, of course, but it should work even better if the search site got the information. They could then use readers' banning as part of the ranking, because they'd know that a site is not a good match for someone looking for keywords X, Y and Z, despite what it may look like to the search bot.

    Another approach might be to see if the courts would go along with applying "truth in advertising" laws to stuff online. You'd think this would be obvious, but we're still in the stage at which the inclusion of words like "computer" or "online" immediately cancels all precedent, and centuries of lessons must be relearned for the new computer/network environment. It's probably still some years before false advertising online can be challenged and prosecuted as easily as with false and misleading print or broadcast ads.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Google actually tried that for a while. Sort of. There was a little grey X in a box near the end of each search result that would hide it on the page if you clicked it. Complete with a cute little animation of the result poofing into a cloud and contracting on itself. I used it every time I saw expert-sexchange come up in searches.

      It went away a while ago. Presumably somebody wrote a bot to X every search result ahead of their own, then spammed the hell out of it.

  • by devleopard ( 317515 ) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @01:11PM (#32267096) Homepage

    Recent example:

    Microsoft Mice Made in Chinese Youth Sweatshops? []

    makes for more views than

    Several Technology Companies Reported to Use Child Labor at Chinese Youth Sweatshop []

    even though it's as true. (To be fair, all other media outlets did the same thing, ignoring companies like Apple and Best Buy who used the same factory.)

    This is pretty typical - every day I see at least one article where the headline misrepresents or outright contradicts the actual article. Pretty much everyone, in the interests of page views and advertising revenue, will sacrifice journalistic integrity and truth.

  • . . . with their respective spouses so that my Slashdot post may be more easily found by Bing! The Internet has no morals, just better algorithms.
  • Seems like most of the web pages now are written to snare search engines more that to attract readers. For a good example, check out this SEO patheticized home page [], first with flash turned on, then with flash turned off.

  • So that's where he ended up after that Texans QB gig didn't work out.... I guess going to the niners would have immersed him in tech culture...
  • That honor, in my humble opinion would be the Post's December 13, 2007 headline:


    Reporting the death of Ike Turner of a cocaine overdose.

    That one made me actually laugh out loud.

  • Is it because Tyler Momsen is naked and petrified?

  • Imagine if the newspapers gave up on mind-bending overly-clever space-saving headlines and just went with descriptive titles. It would make sense to me that this is a good strategy in the modern era. There are no space restrictions really on the web, or not as much as in print. Perhaps Google could somehow try to reward accuracy in headlines in their algorithms. Did I just say "Al Gore rhythms?"
  • I find it difficult to shop for things online. Every retailer now seems to show up in Google search hits, whether or not they even sell the item. There's nothing quite so infuriating as following a link you think will get you to a fair deal on the item you're looking to buy, only to discover they don't even carry the damn thing!

    The idea is the same: get the eyeballs watching and pick their pockets while they're distracted.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken